A Man Escaped (1956)

Robert Bresson’s minimalist style is in full force for A Man Escaped. However, even as I throw that term “minimalist” around, I wonder if it isn’t somewhat misleading. Without a doubt, A Man Escaped is one of the more exciting and arresting films out there. What Bresson is doing though is clear: by keeping the action confined to the perspective of the prisoner Fontaine, he in many ways shuts out the world beyond. It is through the absence of any knowledge of the outside world, the absence of any kind of context, the absence even of the faces of most of the German officers, that the confinement of Fontaine encroaches upon us as viewers.Yet the tension slowly builds. Bresson uses the sound and music to his advantage here. We get the soft sounds of the passing trolley train. We get the loud scraping as he jostles his door. We get the crunching of glass, the scraping of iron, and the tapping of neighbors, all of which serve to break the deafening silence. However, this becomes most apparent just as the escape begins. Fontaine and Jost have just ascended to the roof, and the use of the whistle and the moving train in this sequence make the tension nearly unbearable.

Bresson’s most ingenious move may be with his use of Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. The music seems to always break in either during or right around periods of movement for Fontaine – going to and from his cell, in the courtyard, etc. There is a freedom associated with music, something about it that is untamed, that cannot be contained. It works well when it shows up.

There are also a number of theological ideas running through the film, though on this viewing I was less attuned to those bits of dialogue and was rather focused on the rhythms of the film, the music, and the sound. This being my second viewing, I was definitely more emotionally engaged than before, when I admired but did not feel strongly about the film. The second viewing was a great improvement, as I expected it would be. No doubt a third will continue that trend.

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